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Learning the Hawai'i Cartography

August 14, 2017

What does it mean to conduct research while still being respectful to the population being studied? For Renee Pualani Louis, this was a question she faced when studying Hawaii cartography for her new book, Kanaka Hawaii Cartography: Hula, Navigation, and Oratory. Louis had signed up for classes at Aunty Margaret Machado’s Hawaiian Massage Academy, where she met Aunty Moana Kahele. She had entered the classes purely with the intent of learning lomilomi, Hawaii massage, but also had an interest in the place names and stories of the area surrounding them. In this excerpt from Kanaka Hawaii Cartography, Louis illuminates the research process she used with Aunty Moana and the relationship they built from their time together.

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“Aia i Hea Au? Nānā i ka Wā ma Mua” (Where Am I? Look to the Space/Time in Front/Before)

Summer 2003—Dreams

 

I conducted our discussions in English, and at times, Aunty Moana would say a few phrases in Hawai‘i language, asking if I understood what she said. Most of the time I did understand her, but responded with my limited language skills and usually finished off in English. This naturally set the tone for our rapport. It did not stop her from using Hawai‘i language phrases; she just did not expect me to respond in Hawai‘i language. I am certain that a researcher with more confidence in their Hawai‘i language skills would have received a different depth of sharing to which I was not privileged.

 

Although I initially set out to digitally record our discussions, both audio and video, Aunty Moana preferred that our sessions be conducted without being taped. Instead, she referred me to another video done by Kamehameha Schools Land Asset Division. In one instance, I was told specifically that the stories being shared were for me to remember and not for others to know on a tape. I was able to get a copy of both the report done by Kumu Pono Associates and the video done by Nā Maka O Ka ‘Aina.

 

As Aunty Moana spoke of different places, she weaved in genealogies and personal experiences. After three or four sessions, I started asking if the person she was talking about was the same one from a different story, stating, “You know, the one where…”, finishing the sentence with the story she had told me. Occasionally, she corrected me, emphasizing points I was certain I hadn’t heard before. It was about this time that I shared with her two dreams I had about Kealakekua and Kapukapu.

 

Although having a well-known and very deeply respected person willing to share the stories of Kapukapu could be seen as reason enough to conduct this research, I acknowledge that, for Native people, the search for knowledge is much more than a physical task. It is also a spiritual learning. I continue to hear many stories of academics doing research on Indigenous people or in Indigenous communities for research’s sake, without bothering to ask if either the people or the place could benefit from the research. I didn’t want to be one of those people, and while I knew Aunty Moana wanted to work with me and wanted to share her knowledge, I just wasn’t sure the place was ready to share itself with me. So, I did what came naturally. I prayed for a sign, a vision, a dream, anything that would let me know that it was pono, meaning proper, righteous, virtuous, to do this research and learn about the intimate details of Kapukapu. Thankfully, the answer came in the form of several dreams over several weeks. These are two of the dreams I shared with Aunty Moana.

 

In the first I was a young girl running, playing with a young Kanaka Hawai‘i boy in a forest. I was chasing him on a worn path, both us laughing as we took turns hiding with the chance of surprising the other unawares. We decorated each other with flowers and ferns picked along the way. We climbed trees, made birdcalls, picked and ate fruit. By and by we reached a community near the shoreline. I observed many structures, men fixing fishing nets, women picking seaweed. Although the people noticed us, they returned to their work speaking to each other… in Hawai‘i language.

 

That was certainly strange, because although I passed my language requirement by taking a third year of Hawai‘i language, I still didn’t feel confident in my ability to speak Hawai‘i language and was still only somewhat confident in my ability to comprehend oral communication. So, hearing them speaking Hawai‘i language and understanding them in my dream was strange, in retrospect. Nonetheless, no one stopped either the boy or me from playing. No one scolded us for making too much noise. No one warned us not to go over the ridge.

 

I remember feeling like this was a new place to me. Like I was the new kid and this young boy was from this village. I felt that he must know the right places to go and not to go, because I certainly didn’t feel like I knew. We continued to play, winding our way up the mountain playing hide-and-seek in empty caves. The higher we got, the funnier the air began to taste, and all of a sudden we were at the ridge, and we were very quiet. The little boy’s eyes were in distress as he motioned for me to meet him on the summit. I slowly joined him and saw the reason for his anguish. On the other side of the ridge was the modern development Kona has become, with houses, roads, industrial warehouses, and an ocean filled with motorized fishing boats. Gone were the trees, gone were the birds, gone were the places for the practices of the people of old.

 

Without saying a word, he communicated to me with a long hard glare, and I knew what I was supposed to do. As he returned to his village, his time, I stood and walked the summit toward the ocean, the village on one side, the modern development on the other. These two incongruent cultural landscapes were separated by this ridge that I walked like a fence until I reached the ocean. I sat on the cliff pondering what this all meant as the sun began to set.  I realized I was at a juncture in space/time. I knew what was coming fro the village. I knew the cultural landscape that celebrated a Hawai‘i understanding of life would soon be engulfed and could quite possibly be forgotten… unless some people chose to remember, and not just remember but remind others of what existed here before it became thoroughly swallowed up.

 

Becoming or being one of those people is a tall order, a hefty responsibility that I was not sure I was chosen to carry out. So I did the unthinkable. I dove off the cliff into the ocean below, even though I somehow maintained my fear of the ocean in the dream. I remember thinking that if it was the right thing to do, I wouldn’t die. I had heard somewhere that if you die in your dreams you are quite possibly dying, and I didn’t want to die. I just wanted to know for sure that this was right.

 

I didn’t die. I remember surfacing rather relieved. I was treading water when I saw probably my greatest fear approaching, the huge dorsal fin of a shark. I began thinking now I was going to die. But then I didn’t panic or feel like fleeing. I remember thinking if this was it, there was nothing I could do. Then I realized I was surrounded by all the creatures in the ocean, turtles to the left of me, dolphins to the right, and various fish scattered between them, including rays and eels. As the shark slowed and settled in front of me, the circle was complete. The awe I felt for all these ocean creatures to surround me as such was so great, the meaning too much for me to comprehend, the power too immense to perceive. I awoke, but as I did I remember looking down seeing it all: the circle, the village, the modern development, and me.

 

By the time I had my second dream, I had a chance to speak with someone about my fears of the ocean. I expressed the reasons and the rationale for my fear and was given very good advice from committee member Manulani Aluli Meyer in a personal email communication. She said fear lives in our minds. When it is shaped by experience, it becomes a conception that is difficult to change by just thinking about it. To remove this kind of fear, I had to get out of my mind and return to my body. I had to go into the ocean and deconstruct the fear that I had created in my body by retraining my body to change my response to the ocean.

 

I did just that. I started taking small steps to get over my fear and began visiting the ocean more often and staying in the water longer with each visit. At first the slightest touch of any object would send a bolt of terror through my body. Eventually, I got over the terror of things touching me in the ocean and started working on feeling comfortable treading water. This is a good place to tell you about the second dream, because it starts with me treading water in the middle of Kapukapu.

 

In this dream I have no idea how I got to be in the middle of the bay. There are no boats around me, no kayaks, and no people, just the calmly lapping sounds of the ocean all around me as I tread water looking west into the Pacific Ocean. In this dream I am not afraid of the ocean or of not being able to feel the earth under my feet. As I turn to my right, I see the flat of Ka‘awaloa and imagine the ali‘I, Hawai‘i leaders, that made their residences there. It seems like an excellent place for affairs of the government. It’s near a permanent aquacultural food supply, has access to agricultural fields up mauka, has easy, quick access to launch an attack or flee from one, and has several brackish water holes.

 

As I continue to turn to my right, Kapaliomanuahi rises from Ka‘awaloa flats and becomes Nāpalikapuokeoua. The sight is immense, and I realize that where I’m treading water, the ocean floor is probably as deep as those cliffs are high. I continue to turn to my right, facing east looking toward the beach. I imagine the shore once lined with sand and small structures for the kāhuna, master practitioners, who lived and practiced here. Still turning to my right I see Hikiau Heiau and realize it would have been the tallest structure on the beach, but is now dwarfed by modern homes that continue to line the coast as I turn to the south. It is at that moment that I sense the presence of another. It was the shark, Kua, from Ka‘ū, an ancestor for many families from Ka‘ū and the namesake for Kealakekua, according to Aunty Moana’s story.

 

I turn to face him. It seems as though I know that this is the reason I was there treading water. I was waiting to meet him. In retrospect I am really not surprised I was not afraid of treading water or the arrival of a shark or meeting such an important ancestral entity. I turned completely toward Kua and said, “Ah, there you are.” He swam by, nudging me, and I took it as a sign to hold on, which I did. It’s amazing that you can breathe underwater in your dreams. He gave me a tour of the bay, showing me the many crevices and underwater caves. It was beautiful. When it was time to go, he looked me in the eye. I recognized that look. It was the same glaring look the little boy gave me at the summit. They were one and the same.

 

It was after this dream that I finally felt this research was the right thing to do. I, of course, shared these experiences with Aunty Moana, and our talks became more intense. She would still take quite a few minutes talking about the demands others were placing on her time, but she more quickly moved on to telling me personal stories and experiences she had in connection to the spiritual landscape of Kapukapu and its surrounding areas. I literally felt myself transported into the stories she told—and I didn’t even have to close my eyes to imagine them. As I sat on the floor of Aunty Moana’s living room, I had no idea there was actually a pattern being revealed. She began with the story of Kealakekua as she had heard it passed down from generation to generation. She then elaborated on the misrepresentations of seven names that have been changed and circulated in textual and cartographic sources. Lastly, she breathed life into Kealakekua, revealing nine intimate stories of sensual geographies.

 

She would always give me a few days between sessions and encourage me to spend that time in those places I learned about. She said we remember better when all our senses are engaged in the learning process. That way the place and the story fused without na‘au, small intestines, and metaphorically, the seat of thought, intellect, affects, and moral nature (Andrews 1865). Our minds record everything, but our recall is usually limited to those things on which we focus. By experiencing the world more sensually, we allow our minds to make more subtle connections with each place. A practiced mind associates smell, temperature, humidity, wind direction, and the rhythmic movement of plants with the precursor of bad weather and will automatically bring a jacket to work without even thinking twice.

 

I spent many, many hours learning dozens of stories from Aunty Moana that summer. Stories that became a part of my being as I sensually experienced as many places as I could access. I was sad for my summer of learning to come to an end, because I knew I had only scratched the surface of knowledge maintained by this respected community elder. After each one of our discussions I wrote down as much as I could remember in personal journals. However, I remember thinking that I didn’t want my writing things down to take away from the experience of remembering the narrative, from experiencing the performance. I reminded myself that these notations were not meant to be a substitute for the performances. They were meant to aid me in writing this manuscript.

 

On my last day that summer with Aunty Moana, I wrote down the place names of all the stories she had shared with me and asked her which ones I could share in my dissertation. We discussed the reasons for each selection, and just before I left she handed me a handwritten copy of her manuscript, “Clouds of Memories.” She explained that she wrote all these stories down as she grew up listening to friends and family “talk story.” Since it was her last and only copy, I refused to take it and later acquired a copy from a friend to whom she had given a copy some years earlier.

 

I continued to call and visit Aunty Moana regularly after I returned to O‘ahu. The phone calls became fewer and farther apart, mostly because she was very busy working on other community matters. However, I was beginning to write up the work we had done together and wanted to present it at different conferences and needed to share that with her before turning in an abstract. When I did get through to her, she asked me where the conference was being held, who would be attending, and why I thought it was important to share the information. I asked before each conference and each article that referenced any information she shared with me. Although these conversations were the most tedious, they were also the most liberating because I knew I had received her blessing. This may seem excessive from the perspective of an academic code of ethical conduct, but it was the right thing to do. I continue to honor Aunty Moana at any presentation that contains any information from our work, or rather my training, together. Sometime later Aunty Moana was checked in to the Kona Hospital when she could no longer care for herself. Thereafter, I visited with her at the hospital, bringing her my latest chapters or articles. By then, she had grown to trust my representation of the information she shared with me, and most of our time together was filled with retelling stories. In the last few months of her life, I discovered someone had stolen Aunty Moana’s handwritten copy of her then-unpublished manuscript. On what was to be my last visit with her, she asked me to make copies of the manuscript I had acquired from a friend so she could give them to her adopted son and daughter. I gave her my “field” copy that day, knowing I had another “clean” copy at home. I told her I would bring the other copy next time, when I got back from a conference. At that moment, I realized there would not be a next time.

 

That was one of the hardest visits of my life, second only to being present at the death of my maternal grandmother. I asked if I could scan and include some of her stories in my dissertation, and she agreed to six of them. Of the twelve other stories she shared, she agreed I could transcribe seven of them from her then-unpublished manuscript, “Clouds of Memories.” She asked me to recount the other five stories from my recollection and, after careful consideration, agreed I was ready to share them from my own voice. Aunty Moana may not be in this world, but she is still part of my reality. I know those stories I share from my own voice carry with them the weight of her ancestors. To this day, I do not share them without first asking permission. I did not want to leave her bedside. I did not want this journey to end. But the nurse came in and said visiting hours were over. I kissed Aunty Moana goodbye on the cheek, and told her I would remain “open” to her continued guidance. She was calm and composed and graciously reminded me, “This is important work.”

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